House debates

Monday, 27 November 2023

Private Members' Business

Elimination of Violence against Women

7:05 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this important motion tonight moved by the Deputy Speaker, the member for Newcastle. As her motion acknowledges, there is so much work we still need to do to end violence against women and children in this country. Our government has been very clear that we are committed to ending violence against women and children within a generation. It's not work we can get done overnight, but it is work that we are putting every available lever and tool towards. It is so important that, as we note this motion and as we note this time, we actually look at the facts of what is happening in our country.

As of last week, 53 women in Australia have been killed by acts of violence. That's 53 women who have lost their lives and 53 families, parents, children, other family and friends who now go on without that loved one. One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence perpetrated by a man since the age of 15. We know that violence affects women from every age group, from every cultural background and from every corner of this country—women with different jobs, levels of education and income. So it is essential that we get on and we do the work.

Since coming to office, our government has not wasted a moment in taking immediate and practical steps to prevent violence against women. We have invested a record $2.3 billion in this area to implement the ten-year National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children, as well as other women's safety initiatives. We have legislated ten days of paid family and domestic violence leave for all employees, including casuals. This is a well overdue reform that organisations and advocates have been calling on for some time. It's a reform that recognises that violence effects women, as I said earlier, across all levels of education and income and across all types of work. That is why it is so important that these ten days of leave are universal.

As part of the national plan, our government has also developed an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander action plan that reflects the need for targeted action for First Nations women and children, who are disproportionately impacted by family and domestic violence. We know that concrete action is needed. We know that this work is best led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who understand what is happening in their communities and who can best advocate for ways through this really, really difficult problem. The first step to reducing the rates of violence is to fully understand the scope of the problem, and we have invested $15 million for First Nations led research that's collecting data and evidence to ensure funding is delivered where it's needed most.

The government has also funded a three-year trial to explore the best ways to counteract the harmful impacts of social media messaging that targets young men and boys and instead ensure that young men learn how to have healthy, respectful relationships. This will be delivered both face to face, including through sessions at sporting clubs and other organisations, and through online engagement. I know that this is such a concern for many people, particularly people with both young girls and young boys, who see this playing out in their own households and their own lives. Other changes our government has made include reducing the time it takes for victims-survivors to access the escaping violence payment—the payment that allows them to feel like they can leave a dangerous situation—and securing funding for states and territories to deliver frontline services.

This Saturday marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. The day before, on Friday, local organisations from my community participated in Respect Victoria's Walk against Family Violence, joining with people across the state to stand together against violence, including my local state colleague Vicki Ward MP, the Victorian Minister for Prevention of Family Violence. I recognise the year-round work, at all times of the day, from so many support services—all those who work in the family, domestic and sexual violence sector, including the services and workers in my community. Just across the road from my electorate office in Heidelberg is the Orange Door. It's one of those services doing vital work to support victims-survivors and their families and doing critical work on the prevention of violence as well.

Violence against women and children is a national tragedy. There can be absolutely no complacency in our approach to this problem. Our government is using all the levers available to it to tackle this problem. It will take time, but we are getting on with trying to tackle this entrenched problem in our community to say that enough is enough. We will not stand for women and children being harmed at the rates we currently see.

7:10 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank the member for Newcastle for bringing forward this very important motion and for allowing me the opportunity to speak on it. This past Saturday, 25 November, was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, commencing 16 days of activism against gender based violence. It is a poignant annual reminder that we need to do better as a society and better as a government.

The recent reports of the deaths of five Australian women at the hands of their partners--men who reportedly loved them--in just 10 days were devastating and alarming. More than one woman is killed every week, and these stories are, sadly, unfamiliar. In my own electorate, we have some of the most concerning family violence statistics in the state. We as parliamentarians have to ask ourselves what further steps we as government can take to do better to prevent these tragedies from re-occurring.

I would like to commend the work that is being done by the current ministers, because it should be bipartisan, and recognise the good work that the ministers and shadow ministers have been doing and are doing for the prevention of family violence. I thank them for their continued commitment and for their heartfelt statements in this place to date. Hearing the similar goals, policies and planning benchmarks provided by each as we work towards eradicating this scourge from Australian society concisely reaffirms the bipartisan approach that is already in place, in this place, and must continue to drive meaningful change. I appreciate that the current government has the same noble intentions as the one that preceded it and the strong desire to move the dial further.

Over the past 18 months as the shadow assistant minister for the prevention of violence, I've travelled to Western Australia, the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and, of course, my state in New South Wales. I've spoken to organisations who are currently at the coalface when it comes to prevention and response to family and domestic violence. During that time, I have consistently heard the analogy that these agencies feel like they are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, spending infinite time and resources on the clean-up and not being allowed to focus on providing that fence to protect potential victims.

Some of these agencies have seen great success in their grassroots men's behavioural and community group education programs, and they need the right supports to be able to expand them. I recently sat with Kempsey Families Inc, which provides holistic services across family units and continually strives to adapt programs to best cater to the whole unit. To be able to expand these programs efficiently, they need a separate space for men and women so that each participant feels safe and catered to. This is a sensible and considered approach to properly addressing prevention, intervention, response and recovery. I have concerns the government, both on this side and the current government, continue to focus the majority of the available budget on the back end of the domestic violence cycle while putting less than 18 per cent into the total dedicated budget towards prevention programs. It is where we stand as a government today.

Response is extremely important. I'm not saying in any way that our domestic and family violence response agencies are not stretched, and they deserve every cent they get, but we need to address the problem.

Let's not beat around the bush: the facts are that eight out of 10 men are the offenders. We need to put in place the funding and the programs for men's behavioural change and men's support networks to change that generational thinking, because a male victim child today quite potentially becomes a male offender tomorrow. Let's focus on prevention. Let's fund prevention and let's do it today.

7:15 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On Saturday, community members from across my electorate of Corangamite reflected on one of the most insidious challenges facing our nation today: violence against women. It was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the first day of the 16 days of activism to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls around the world. The theme of this year's campaign is 'UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls'. The campaign calls for global action to increase awareness, promote advocacy and create opportunities for discussion on challenges and solutions.

Our government recognises that violence against women remains one of the most entrenched human rights violations in the world. Globally, an estimated 736 million women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate-partner or non-partner violence, or both, at least once in their life. We know that, here in Australia, too many women and children experience gender based violence every day. The statistics are never easy to hear. One in three women have experienced intimate partner violence since the age of 15. This month alone, more than 40 women have been killed by acts of violence.

We can no longer ignore the brutal reality of domestic violence. That's why I stand today in support of this motion, moved by the member for Newcastle, and I thank the member for moving it. Violence against women and children is horrific, tragic and insidious, and we need to act with urgency. That's why the Albanese government has legislated a suite of groundbreaking reforms and made significant investments to address this issue. It's why we're committed to ending violence against women and children—violence that is often hidden in plain sight.

One of the first reforms introduced by our government was 10 days of paid family violence leave for all employees, including casuals, because no one should be left to choose between their safety and their financial security. We've also taken immediate and practical steps to support victims of family and domestic violence, including a record $2.3 billion investment. We've fixed the escaping violence payment, reducing the time it takes victims-survivors to access support by 22 days. The difference this will make for some victims-survivors will be immeasurable. We have also extended funding for states and territories to deliver frontline services. We're delivering new frontline and community-sector workers to support victims-survivors of family violence, with funding to support the first group of workers now flowing to states and territories, and we have established a set of actions under the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children.

These are significant reforms and investments, but our government acknowledges that we still have a long way to go. Statistics from Victoria Police show that, just last year, there were approximately 4,800 cases of domestic violence in local government areas across my electorate alone. It's shocking and it's unacceptable. These women come from all walks of life—different ages, cultures, professions and backgrounds—but they share a heartbreaking story: their lives and their children's lives have been tragically cut short or brutally upended at the hands of a current or former partner. These women are aunties, sisters, daughters, friends and colleagues. They are women we have loved and women we have lost too soon. This must change, and the perception of family violence must change. We need to shatter the perception that family violence happens elsewhere, not in our own backyards.

In closing, and to mark this significant week for women across our nation, I'd like to share the words of the victims-survivors contained in the opening statement of our government's national plan:

Abuse and violence is a problem for victims, but it is not the victims' problem. Genuine change begins with a willingness to listen. We must stop protecting perpetrators with our silence, and through inaction. We must be willing to sit in discomfort. It is time to be brave.

And it is time to act.

7:20 pm

Photo of Jenny WareJenny Ware (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the motion brought by the member for Newcastle. Today, like many others in this place and in the other, I'm wearing orange in support of the 16 days of activism against gender based violence. As part of the coalition, I welcome the member for Newcastle's motion to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In my home city of Sydney in New South Wales, only a couple of weeks ago a young woman aged only 21, Lilie James, was violently murdered, allegedly at the hands of a former male partner. This murder committed at a school shocked Sydney and shocked Australia. However, Lilie was one of 55 women this year who have been murdered at the hands, allegedly in Lilie's case, of a male partner. Improving the safety of women and children must be above politics, and we on our side will continue to work with the government towards the elimination of violence against women.

Across this nation every day, family and domestic violence harms Australian women and children. Many of these incidents go unreported. Unfortunately, although we are in 2023, we are not seeing an improvement in the reduction of reported incidents or deaths from this violence. It is simply not good enough, and we must do better. In fact, some of the statistics are showing that the number of domestic homicides is getting worse. It is a national crisis and a national disgrace. I do applaud the Albanese Labor government for pledging over a year ago to end gender based violence in a generation. This is laudable; it is a worthy commitment. The National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children and the recently released First Action Plan must translate the words and the allocated funding into tangible and effective action that saves lives. Part of these actions must focus on improving community education around this scourge. It needs to dismantle the common view that family violence only occurs with aggressive behaviours and that family violence only occurs in certain demographics. This is not the case.

In reality, family violence presents in many forms, including emotional, financial, spiritual, cultural and coercive control. Coercive control takes the form of threats, intimidation, humiliation and other abuse that erodes a person's autonomy and ability to flourish. In that regard, I particularly acknowledge the work of the former New South Wales coalition government led by the Hon. Mark Speakman and the Hon. Natalie Ward. Twelve months ago, the New South Wales government passed legislation making coercive control a standalone criminal offence in New South Wales. This was the first law of its kind in Australia, if not in the world. Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse that involves patterns of behaviour that have the cumulative effect of denying victims-survivors their autonomy and their independence. We need the whole community to understand the forms that this violence can take and to be alert to its indicators.

We must also have a more pointed commitment to early intervention programs and prevention strategies. These strategies must particularly include a focus on education and support programs for Australian boys and men. As the mother of boys I feel that this education must begin at its earliest, in those formative preschool years, so that boys understand respect for women and that violence against women is never, ever acceptable.

Another area that could be improved is the rehabilitation of family violence offenders before they're released from custody. This, again, is something that must be addressed while we are in this place. To conclude, the tackling of family violence must be above politics in this place. It is above politics. I have been so heartened to see the number of us today who are wearing orange in support of this important day and to hear all the speeches from across the floor in support of the elimination of violence against women.

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 19 : 25